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New poll shows New Zealand evenly split on cannabis legalization

Sep 2, 2020

Although cannabis legalization enjoys broad support in the US, even though neither presidential candidate is expected to support it before the election in November (regardless of the slew of op-eds that may come out between now and then that will say otherwise), the issue is a bit more divisive in New Zealand. With the general election there only weeks away, a new survey shows voters split on cannabis legalization.

An independent survey of 1,300 people from New Zealand found that support for the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill stands 49.5 percent for 40.5 percent against, with 1 percent giving no response. It’s a razor-thin margin that could tip either way on election day.

“For nearly two years we’ve tracked public opinion, and this is an incredible result given early voting starts in just over four weeks,” said Paul Manning, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics, in a statement. “It’s increasingly clear that it will come down to voter registration and election turnout, particularly if younger adults lift their intention to vote.”

Survey respondents were forced to give a yes or no answer to better show the breadth of choices they would have on the day of the vote. However, in earlier surveys, respondents were given the option of stating, “I’m not sure.” In those surveys, pollsters found that 12 percent remained unsure, 44 percent supported legalization, and 41 percent opposed it. Males support legalization more than females; however, when forced to choose, those who are unsure were found to drift towards a hard “no” position.

Diving into the numbers a bit deeper, pollsters also found that registered and likely voters were more apt to vote against the new bill by a margin of 50 to 48. In contrast, unregistered and unlikely voters were more likely to vote in favor of legalization by a margin of 53 to 45.

“This could be the closest vote since 1919, when alcohol prohibition was defeated by just 10,362 votes,” continued Manning. “As this survey shows, cannabis is already widely accessible, and so next month’s decision is fundamentally about who we want to control it: Government or the gangs.”

Manning also said that “wider regulation of cannabis isn’t perfect, but I believe it offers some improvements on the status quo. A regulated environment for cannabis would see the development of locally-owned businesses, delivering jobs and tax revenue for healthcare services – a welcomed addition for New Zealand’s post-Covid economy,” 

Cannabis users appear to be most supportive of the new bill, with survey results showing 70 percent of them in favor of it. There was bad news for the legalization movement in this survey, as a previous poll found that legalizing personal use enjoyed the support of a majority of 18 to 64-year-olds. Now it’s only supported by a majority in the 18 to 44-year-old age bracket.

According to a statement, support has fallen amongst all age groups except for those 75 years and older.

Still, Paul Manning argues that most New Zealanders believe cannabis for personal use should be legal. 

“While further reform would certainly impact the market dynamics of medicinal cannabis - for both producers and prescribers - Helius will not be entering the recreational cannabis market if legalised,” said Manning in a statement. “Personally, however, I would prefer to see wider control of cannabis through strict regulation.”

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